SOUTH AFRICA – While there is much that differentiates Canada from the continent of Africa, there are a remarkable number of similarities relating to the environment in which mining takes place, according to Joe Keenan, managing director of the South Africa-based explosives leader BME.
Having established itself over the past 30 years as the largest provider of explosives and blasting services to South Africa’s opencast mining sector, BME has also established a wide footprint in 19 other African countries. The company has recently entered the Australasian and South American markets, and Canada has now also been prioritized as a market of interest.
“From a geographic and demographic point of view, there are interesting parallels between the conditions under which we operate in Africa, and those that exist around Canada,” said Keenan. “One of the most obvious is the concentration of African populations in a limited number of large, urban areas – much like Canada – while the mining areas are generally remote and rural, creating similar challenges for logistics and communication.”
Himself a native of the land of the maple leaf, Keenan said that Canada – as the world’s second largest country – had considerable diversity in the source of its mining skills, many coming from African countries.
“Canada prides itself on being a multi-cultural nation, and has built its mining industry on the skills of a range of countries and cultures – including many from Africa’s mining centres such as South Africa and Ghana,” he said. It is also interesting to note that, as a continent, Africa currently rates highly alongside Canada as among the world’s the more popular exploration destinations.
Indeed, Canada is probably the largest investor in Africa’s minerals sector, with a great deal of focus on both exploration and mining by Canada-based companies – ahead even of China’s considerable mineral investments in the continent.
“The explosives markets in Africa share with Canada a focus on product differentiation, productivity and service,” he said. “There is also a commonality of the customers themselves – where many companies own mines in Canada as well as in African countries. This has led inevitably to a positive cross-pollination of ideas between markets.”
From a technology point of view, there is considerable crossover in terms of technologies used and mining methods – including longhole stoping, room and pillar, narrow vein mining and deep underground mining.
“The mining sector on the continent of Africa share a number of technologies and experience around deep mining methods and the challenges that these pose,” he said. “There is also a great diversity of commodities in both regions, with Canada exploiting many of the minerals found in African countries – from gold, diamonds and coal to copper, cobalt, uranium and iron ore – where they are mined by both opencast and underground methods.”
Keenan noted that African countries share with Canada the common predominant usage of bulk emulsion explosives – the core of BME’s product offerings – and these markets have all seen a high conversion to electronic detonators as part of their production regime.
“In the underground space, there has been a push within the Canadian market to convert mining development and stoping to bulk explosives, to replace bagged Anfo and cartridges for both regulatory and productivity reasons,” said Keenan.
He said that growing concerns over the issue of nitrates in groundwater, for instance, have led to mining companies moving to emulsion options in which the nitrates in the explosives are not water soluble. In fact, many of the mining regulations in place on the South African law books were informed by those in Canada – from where much inspiration was drawn in the 1990s and later that would guide South Africa’s policy frameworks.
He added that customers in African countries and in Canada tended to have similar expectations of their explosives providers, looking to them for an extensive range of services; the two high-level services – rock-on-ground and down-the-hole services – are quite comparable between these markets.
Hand in hand with this is the advanced technical support that explosives companies are able to provide to their customers, to enhance the utilisation of their products. At the same time, customers place high priority on the security of the explosives supply chain, to ensure that operations are not disrupted by lack of supply – irrespective of the challenges posed by distance or infrastructure.
“The way that mines make use of contractors is also quite similar between these markets – with mines often outsourcing mine construction and development work to contractors, while conducting in-house the core and critical activities like ongoing blasting and mining,” he said.
Keenan argued the experience, footprint and capacity of BME on the African continent meant that the company was well placed to serve the mining markets of Canada, and that its opportunities for doing so were not far off.
More about BME is available at www.BME.co.za.